Human interactions

“The reality comes into being through interaction” Emilie Levine 2018

I recently watched a TED talk with Emilie Levine called “How I made friends with reality”. This talk is beautiful in many ways, but this quote moved me the most.

I reflect often about human interactions. I observe how important they are for us, and how difficult they can be at times. I must confess that I am not very good at them in general. I expect too much from the people that are close to me, I am bad at small talk, and patience hasn’t been my strongest skill.

Ever since I was in high school, I have been quite reserved socially. I am friendly, and I actually like to interact with people, but I don’t like to come too close because I know I often end up making a mess. I can maybe say that I don’t trust myself much when it comes to human interactions. I have few close friends, and those that I have, I am so grateful for because I know that they have taken the time to know me, accept and understand my weirdness.

I also work as a teacher, so I am in constant contact with people. My students and my colleagues. As a teacher, I have an idea of what my role is, and of course, everyday, this idea is challenged by my students. It is getting better, but I also feel I use a lot of energy avoiding getting into negative situations with my students.

I can honestly say that part of my dedication in the study and practice of yoga is with the intention of improving my way to interact with others because it came to a point where I understood that the change needed to come from me. I have spent too much energy being frustrated, sad, angry and then regretting because of the gap between my perception of things and reality.

I liked this quote particularly good because I feel that it is so true. We create our reality by interacting with the world around us, not only with other humans but with everything that surrounds us. This is a powerful quote because it means that we can always choose what kind of reality we want to create by interacting with others.

It is not always that easy because most of us are used to the idea that we need to get something in return for what we give. When we have the impression that we only give, we get frustrated or loose interest.

In Spanish we have a say cada cabeza es un mundo: “Every head is a world” or “There is a whole world in each head”, and I believe this is true. What if we keep this in mind when we interact with others? We don’t know what kind of impressions they have in their minds, we don’t know what their expectations are, nor do we know how they perceive the world.

One of the most known and general definitions of yoga is that it is a science for self-liberation. In addition different traditions can have different definitions. I recently read a definition that I think is very nice to apply in our interactions with others: “Yoga is to create space”. I believe this was said in the context of pranayama, but if we think about the basic principles of yoga: detachment and practice, space is an important aspect too.

I have been wondering a lot lately, am I able to live in love? Can I, at every situation, choose to interact from a selfless space? Can I, give space to the people around me to be and at the same time allow myself to be too? I must confess that it seems quite difficult to achieve, but I think it is worth a try. Not only in my close relationships but everywhere. 

If we create reality by interacting with others, wouldn’t we want to create a reality where we all thrive? Are we able to show unconditional understanding, compassion give each other space to grow? Can we meet others with humbleness? Nobody’s perfect, and nobody will ever be perfect in this world, but we need each other.

Intention and visualization

The more I walk on the path of Yoga, the more I want to learn and apply its teachings to my life. It is like running a life experiment. We all perceive life in different ways, but at some moment in life, not so long ago, I came to a point where I had to question where I was investing my energy and why. I kept pointing my finger out, until, with the guidance of my Yoga teacher, I started studying the principles of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga as well as Meditation by reading and reflecting on the Bhagavad Gita.

What I like about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita is that they are applicable to practical life. The adjustments that are required to make in order to reach an independent state of inner peace are internal and they all are my own responsibility.

I like the idea that my well-being is my own responsibility, at the same time as I find it challenging and sometimes overwhelming. In the Gita and following the teachings of Karma Yoga, we are encouraged to engage in the practical world, to play our roles, but with a change in our attitude, perceptions, and expectations. I will elaborate on this in another post.

The Bhakti aspect of Yoga is one that I have been reflecting about in the past months. The teachings in chapter 12 of Bhagavad Gita are inspiring and I can see the liberating aspect in them because as we all know, most of the time, we cannot control what happens around us, but we can with practice and patience control how we act and react in different situations, and this has a direct impact on our well-being.

During the last few days, I have taken the task to read one verse every morning and imagine how it could look like if I put it into practice during my day. I use the verse to set myself an intention and I write a few lines on how I think this could look like in practical life, like a visualization. Here is today’s verse:

18-19  “I love devotees whose attitudes are the same toward friend or foe, who are indifferent to honor or ignominy, heat or cold, praise or criticism—who not only control their talking but are silent within. Also very dear to Me are those generally content with life and unattached to things of the world, even to home. I love those whose sole concern in life is to love Me. Indeed, these and all the others I mentioned are very, very dear to Me.”

So imagine a day where you can skillfully move from task to task, interact with people around you without spending time or energy on judging whether you like or dislike the situation and/or the person you are dealing with. With grace and peace of mind, you deal with what you need to deal, and you move forward to the next task/interaction. Such a liberating idea! You would then “neither be a source of agitation in the world nor agitated by the world” (ch. 12 v.15) You keep your inner peace.

Further, we are encouraged to control our talking and cultivate silence within. This is also a beautiful idea. Through the practice of Yoga and meditation, we learn to let go of thoughts and emotions that do not serve us, we learn to quiet the mind, and thus have clarity of mind. When our mind is clear, we have more control over what comes out of our mouths. By doing so we are “neither a source of agitation in the world nor agitated by the world” (ch12 v.15). This one is often challenging for me because I talk a lot, but I am trying to practice being clear about the intention of my words before I allow them to come out of my mouth. Are these words going to help or am I going to make things worse? I use what some of my colleagues use with our younger students I “THINK” before I speak: is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Important/Interesting? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? This way, I also take responsibility for my well-being because I don’t need to go around with either bad conscience for my words or have to deal with people being angry/annoyed at me.

Detachment and contentment are also important principles in the practice of Yoga. Detachment from material things, detachment from habits, from thoughts and emotions and even from people. For an intense person like me, this one is very challenging because I’m often an all or nothing person. The idea is not to leave everything and everyone and go live in a cave. The idea is to engage with the world, enjoy the things we have, the people we interact with, but be aware of the fact that we don’t own any of them. That their nature is ever changing. People change, things deteriorate, things get lost, our perceptions can be modified, etc.

Contentment is something that we have to develop inside ourselves and for ourselves independently of what is happening in the practical world if we want to improve our well-being. When we develop contentment, we gracefully and skillfully deal with whatever is. So, when I am standing in front of a class with a “super” idea of a lesson and my students are not the slightest interested, I can be content with the effort I put to prepare this lesson, acknowledge that it is not working, and grasp the opportunity to move forward together with my students instead of against them.

The last part of this verse talks about the idea of total surrender, total trust in something bigger than us. Instead of expecting some kind of reward from the practical world for setting the mentioned principles as our intention, we dedicate our actions to something bigger than us, whatever we want to call it. I definitely see the liberating aspect of doing my best, giving my best and not expecting anything in return, but I often fall in the trap of becoming a victim, especially when I’m tired. In thinking that it is unfair that I do my best but “the rest of the world” doesn’t. Quite a useless thought and a big waste of energy, but I still get into this space.

It is so easy to go back into old habits, so this is like learning to do something new. I have to keep practicing, and I have to keep reminding myself, and hopefully one day, this will be part of my habits.

If you also would like to cultivate a peaceful inner life, I encourage you to try at least one of the principles in this verse. Set it as an intention for the day, imagine your day and in which situations you would use it. Try this for today, or for some days, or for some months and see what happens.